Wales overwhelm France to restore title hopes
Wales coach Warren Gatland was an unusually happy man on Friday after a try in each half earned a third successive win over France and put them back in the hunt to retain their Six Nations crown.
Wales triumphed 27-6 after Irish referee Alain Rolland, in his last test, had sent three players to the sin-bin in the second half, two of them from the French pack, as the visitors were well beaten at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Gatland had warned his players he wouldn’t tolerate another performance like the one that led to a 26-3 defeat by Ireland in Dublin last time out.
And the New Zealander was delighted by the way Wales responded against a France side who had been eyeing a Grand Slam.
“I am often grumpy with these guys, but I am happy with that,” Gatland said. “They responded well, with a good performance and a fantastic result.
“We let ourselves down in Dublin and sometimes you need a watershed moment. We were smashed up front against Ireland, they took us apart and we had to have a good hard look at ourselves.”
French full back Brice Dulin admitted: "We didn’t get going at all in the first half and Wales didn’t give us any way back in.
“The Welsh learned a lot from their loss to the Irish and were a different side.
“We played better in the second half but it was too late by then.”
No sooner had the game kicked off than Wales won a penalty and Leigh Halfpenny calmed the nerves with the first of his five successful penalty kicks in the opening half with the match a mere two minutes old.
Welsh hopes of making history by winning a third successive outright Six Nations title suffered a severe blow against the Irish, while the French arrived in Cardiff cock-a-hoop after home wins over England and Italy. They also came hoping to avoid a fifth successive away defeat for the first time since 1965.
But things simply went from bad to worse for Philippe Saint-Andre’s men as George North harassed full-back Brice Dulin into a mistake close to his line after he had followed up a deft kick ahead by Halfpenny.
The ball trickled out of Dulin’s hands and over the line and North pounced to make it eight points in five minutes for the home side.
Halfpenny missed the conversion, but the Welsh full-back made no mistake with another penalty from near halfway to make it 11-0 after nine minutes.
France were their own worst enemies in an opening half of error after error and even though scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain got them on the scoreboard with a penalty, he missed with another sitter and quickly handed the kicking duties over to his half-back partner Jules Plisson.
He hit the mark once before the break, but Halfpenny kept on rewarding his forwards with successful kicks at goal and Wales were 20-6 ahead at half-time.
The Welsh front row dominated the scrums and the defensive effort from the home side was good enough to keep the French attackers at bay, although it took a knock-on from Eric Bonneval to save the Welsh line from being breached in the 50th minute after Mathieu Bastareaud had run through North for the first clean line-break from the French.
A minute later referee Rolland, who had earlier warned both packs, sent rival props Gethin Jenkins and Nicolas Mas to the sin-bin for a collapsed scrum.
It still took another nine minutes, though, for the first score of the half.
That came moments after No 8 Louis Picamoles had become the second French forward to be given a yellow card, this time for not rolling away in the tackle.
Wales struck when quick line-out ball just inside the French 22 gave Jamie Roberts the chance to charge into midfield and he knocked over Plisson before being hauled down 10 metres out from the posts.
The ball was recycled and Wales captain Sam Warburton – controversially sent off by Rolland in a 9-8 2011 World Cup semi-final defeat by France in Auckland – picked up and drove over for a try the Irishman awarded after consulting the television match official.
Halfpenny kicked the simple conversion for a match haul of 17 points as Wales got their title bid back on track.